Saturday, July 17, 2010


I was visiting with the campground hosts up on Timpanogos Mountain, in Utah over the 4th of July weekend, and they vented some frustrations about some people and their campfire etiquette. They shared that some people start their fires by ripping up thin strips of newspaper.  (I have been guilty of that in years past, until I found easier and better ways.)  They also say that some people kill their fires with dirt and rocks. (I have never done this, water works fine or if you have time you can let it burn out.  This is my favorite method.)

The problem with newspaper strips is that the paper ashes tend to fly around and can cause quite a mess in and around the camping area.  They can also carry sparks that can set the surrounding area on fire.  It is not so bad when you use a wad of paper under your kindling, but strips or whole flat sheets can be problematic. 

Only we 'humans' can 
prevent forest, brush 
or any kind of fires!

There are many different ways to get a good campfire going.  I suggest searching the Internet for some fun, unusual and enlightening ways to get the fire going.  

I will describe a couple of ways that we accomplish making a nice fire to cook on and enjoy throughout the evening.

There is very little fire wood to be had were we are.  We are not allowed to cut down trees, even if they are dead.  Every once in a while there is a dead fall, but if you do not have a chain saw, it is not really plausible for harvesting the dead falls.  

What we do have are lots of smaller than fingerling pieces of wood.  Twigs are plentiful and they are so beneficial to starting fires.  I like to gather them up and use them to help start my fires.  They really do help.  So a nice pile of twigs is  a great addition to the fire pit area.

Then some kindling made from cut pallets pieces.  I try to pick the pieces that don't have woody knots in them, they do tend to split into finger sized kindling better. A nice pile of pallet kindling is also a great addition to the fire pit area.

Next it is nice to have a tub full of cut (metal free) pallet pieces. And if you are lucky enough to have some logs, a pile of logs makes a good looking addition to the fire area.  

Now with all these piles, it is time to construct the foundation for the fire.  But maybe we should talk about fire starters.  They are really important in everyday camping fires.  And really good to have knowledge about in case of emergencies.  Read up on fire starters, the Internet is full of them!

Before we head up to camp, we cut up some pallets and bring a plastic tub with a lid full of small pieces of wood.  

(It is against the law to burn pallets and other woods with metal in them, so we take precautions to make sure that all the metal/non-burnable fasteners are removed from the wood we take camping.  If by chance we notice one nail we missed, we are sure to remove this item from the fire and pack it out responsibly.)

I also make small bags of charcoal so that when we are camping, I can grab a bag and know exactly how many coals are being used. I usually put 22 in a brown lunch bag.  This is a good amount for us and serves my cooking style well.  

In this tub, I also keep some of my necessary fire pit items.  Hot Pot mitts, hatchet, fire starters & tinder, fire tongs, huge hot mitts, matches, etc.  

I have just added this broken broom head.  It will come in handy to brush away ashes from the hot dutch ovens, around the cement fire pit surround, and a dozen other jobs that I will find for it.

Of course if I was to make a charcoal briquette starter can, I would know how many bricks were in the can by experience.  But I have not made a new can yet.  I made one years ago and it is nowhere to be found.  Maybe it went with one of our older camping units?  maybe...................

So the way I deal with getting charcoal started at the campground is making a nice small fire with my pallet wood pieces and laying the fresh briquettes around the flames.

I use Kingsford most of the time, and really love the end result that it renders. They are also easy to put out and relight the next day.

Have you ever had a hard time starting your campfire?  I remember years ago when I was younger I would tear up strips of newspaper and try to set fires that way.  Yes, it worked, but it made quite a few ashes that sometimes would take to the air and fly around.  This can be hazardous and could create forest fires.

So there are many better ways to start fires in legal fire pits.

One way is using petroleum jelly on cotton balls, dryer lint, newspaper, sticks, etc. to keep the fire burning until the larger wood catches.  You still need to use tinder and small kindling, to get the larger stuff hot enough to burst into flames.

Sometimes I have even used tea candles minus the metal case and button that holds the wick.  As the wax melts it soaks into the wood, paper or kindling and keeps the wood burning longer so that the rest of the wood around it can catch fire.

Angel likes to take a wad of paper- newspaper or paper sack and then include a bit of petroleum jelly or a tea candle in the wad.    Then she sticks it at the bottom of the fire pit and then loads kindling and the pallet pieces around it.  She usually does not have any problems starting a fire.

Pilot, Angel and I try to make an easy time of fire building.  It is fun and challenging.  We like to collect fast food sacks and other disposable paper goods just for the campfire.

When I have the supplies, I like to take an empty toilet paper roll and stuff it with dryer lint and petroleum jelly.  Then I lay the kindling around it and get the fire started.  One thing I have found is that you don't have to build a huge fire and in fact a very small fire is the easiest fire to get started.

When your fun at the fire pit is over, if you have the time, spread the coals out and let the fire burn itself out.  If you are ready to leave the fire ring area, and the coals are not out, please just douse them with water.  You may have to do this a couple of times, but it can be done. 

When we go camping, I bring a large stainless steel bread bowl that I cover our coals with.  This works like home BBQ'rs by cutting off the oxygen and letting the coals die out.  The wind can not blow any hot coals or sparks around either.  

Using dirt and rocks cause the fire pit to fill up fast.  And camp hosts have to dig the pits out and when they put the dirt back into the woods, ashes and charred wood pieces get deposited too, this can be unsightly.  It definitely is not natural.  The ash and wood pieces won't harm the environment, in fact it is probably good for the ground, but it is not natural looking.  We want our camp sites to look nice and inviting, that is why we go camping right?!

Just remember use your knowledge and wisdom in all things.  Make sure that your fire is out and use good judgement.  

This article is just my own opinions and beliefs.  Everyone has their personal favorites on building and putting out fires.  What works for me, may not work for you.  I know that there are lots of ways to reach the goal of a nice campfire.  Good luck and have lots of fun in your camping adventures.

Posts connected in this series:

Coming soon: 

  • Campburgers
  • Artisan Bread for Camping
  • Campfires
  • and More

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